Tim Hussin, Deseret News
Media surround FLDS family spokesman Rod Parker on Thursday outside the courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, during the custody hearing for the 416 FLDS children who were taken by the state.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — "Come on down."

It wasn't "The Price Is Right," but the repeated directive of a seasoned self-professed country judge whose pending decisions in a polygamy custody case has all eyes on Texas — and her decisions.

As the hours passed during a monumental, marathon hearing to determine the continued custody status of 416 children seized after an early April raid at the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, it was apparent no one had ever quite experienced such a case before and to maneuver through the proceeding was sort of like the first day of kindergarten.

Judge Barbara Walther seemed unflappable and tried to set the ground rules early on.

Speak only when you're recognized. And goodness, gracious, "only lawyers can stand. I am not going to have people jumping up and down," she said in a Texas drawl.

Outside, the reporters, photographers, and an exceptionally polite bevy of security officers mingled and passed small talk. The locals looked on.

One man compared it to a circus coming to town, without the monkeys.

Even the local squirrels were nervous as one uniformed woman pointed out. One furry little thing came darting down the sidewalk, jumping sideways from the media and hoping to get to a safe place.

"They're really pretty tame — these ones in San Angelo. I think she's nervous and wants a tree."

One local human being leaned back and took pleasure in pointing out the "very famous" media types in town hailing from the big cities.

Yellow police tape sectioned off areas in front of the Tom Green County Courthouse — although it wasn't a crime scene. The same went for City Hall, where the overflow crowd heard the proceedings as they were teleconferenced. It was commonly referenced by attorneys as the place where the not-so-important players in the custody battle had to suffer through.

Security was utmost.

Friendly officers insisted everyone pass through the metal detectors every time they entered City Hall. But one amused officer frequently thanked people for not beeping.

In court, when someone raised an objection — and there were plenty — Walther would wave a hand and tell them, "Come on down."

At one point, the judge asked if any of the "600 attorneys" present on Thursday (there were not quite that many, maybe 350) had an objection.

Of course, someone did.

But, later, after new evidence was being debated on its merits of admissibility, Walther paused, and said she was waiting for the inevitable objection from the lofty courthouse crowd.

An ad litem attorney, apparently speaking on behalf of the others, stood and said there was none. Applause echoed from the City Hall crowd.

And more applause from the same folks when no one from their crowd, when asked by Walther, offered an objection.

It was tough to hear. You couldn't see the people who addressed the court — with the exception of those taking the witness stand and, of course, Walther who was trying to balance justice against video feeds and microphones that occasionally hiccuped.

A city employee said he expected more of a crowd at City Hall.

Goodness, gracious, there was probably enough.


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